As I put on the finishing touches to my contemporary fantasy novel, a curious thing happened. I began to look back at my past works. They are a variety of short stories and children’s books. But there is also a YA fantasy novel that I have been querying for a while. I didn’t look back with judgment or criticism, but with a sort of appreciation of how far I’ve come. I usually do that, when I find it hard to focus.
When I first began writing, all I wanted to do was get published. I wanted an agent. I wanted a publishing deal. I wanted to sit at home all day and write. Sip wine while watching the sun set in the Bahamas. I wanted to go to book signings where there was a line out the door of people waiting to see me. I wanted all of it, but what I didn’t want, was to write.
Does that even make sense? I find that in anything we do, there is a sense of avoiding the hard work if possible. That isn’t a bad thing. If someone just gave you ten million dollars, no strings attached, you wouldn’t say “sorry, but I didn’t earn it. I didn’t work for it.” You would take it, and run. Who wouldn’t? And there is no reason not to (it is ten million dollars after all).
The likelihood of that happening is slim, and so is a successful writing career, if you go into it with that mindset. I didn’t think my first book would be a best seller. I didn’t think I would be having tea with J.K. Rowling. What I did think was that it would be a little easier than it turned out to be.
It always seemed that no matter how hard I worked; it didn’t get easier. I felt that I wasn’t improving. That was until I looked back at my previous works. I studied them. I compared then to how I was writing now. I found that it was amazing how much I had improved, and a little guilty that I ever thought something like that could be publishable. Sometimes it can seem like your writing is just bleeding for attention. Maybe it is.
Here are four things I do to help stay focused in my writing career:
1. KEEP WRITING: This should go without saying. Write, dammit. Just keep writing. When it hurts, when you’re sick. When you’re tired. Write. I don’t mean just write to write. Put something in that computer with substance. Even it is just an outline or a character sketch. I didn’t get better at typing on a keyboard because I took a class, or read a book. I got better at typing because I do it constantly.
2. Don’t Be an Adverb Snob: One of the most important lessons I learned (no pun intended) was that you have to keep learning. Learn your craft. Learn how to express yourself in a way that captivates an audience. When you see an article on adverbs or adjectives, read it. You may learn something new. I have. I try and read every article possible so that I can understand my craft thoroughly.
3. React to the Fire, not the Flames: This one may sound silly. React to what? React to everything that has to do with your writing. The big picture. The day you become blind to the suggestions and critiques around you, is the day your craft will start to whither and die. I know, that is really dramatic, but I am trying to paint a picture. Look at beta reading for example. They are either telling you that something needs improved, or doesn’t work. If you fail to see your own flaws, others will continue to point them out. Keep the big picture in sight. Don’t forget that all the little flames make up a fire. Don’t get distracted by too many tiny details and forget the big picture.
4. Learn From the Past: Pull out those stories that you wrote years ago. Cringe. Drink. Scream. Do whatever you have to do to read them. The point is to learn from it. The point is to see where you have come from. When I look at my novel currently, I see nothing but problems with it. It can seem disheartening, and cause you to be unsure of your writing. I feel it isn’t as good as I want it to be. But when I look back at the trash that I used to write, it is abundantly clear that I am getting better. And it will be for you too.
So, go get that old story out of the trash and motivate yourself. Your story is only [ENTER SUBJECTIVE AMOUNT OF WORDS] from being completed.